With Oak Harbor City Council members close to voting on whether or not to accept the gift of the “Angel de la Creatividad” sculpture proposed for Windjammer Park, prospective candidates weighed in on what has become a lightning rod in the community.
Public reaction to the 37-feet-tall sculpture has been divided since it was proposed in February this year during a park board meeting. The estate of George Drake, the late public arts supporter from Bellingham, offered it to the city as a gift. The bright-red abstract depiction of an angel is made of enameled steel by world-renowned sculptor Sebastián of Mexico City.
The nonprofit group Sculpture Northwest, which Oak Harbor Arts Commission Chairwoman Therese Kingsbury is involved with, has offered to pay for most of the installation costs. Oak Harbor would pay $35,000 of the installation costs.
Social media comments have skewed largely negative, according to the city’s tool called Zencity that is used to gauge public opinion.
A public survey the city published online in June also showed a sour view of the bright-red art — 70% of the survey’s 760 responses said they did not want it. Though critics, including multiple members of city council and the arts commission, have said the survey was not advertised or formatted well.
Four candidates for city council said they would not vote to accept the gifted art if they were on council. They cited concerns with maintenance, aesthetics and an impression that most citizens were left out of the conversation.
“There would be zero ways to vote yes right now,” said candidate Shane Hoffmire.
Incumbent Councilmembers Joel Servatius, who is running against Hoffmire, and Jim Woessner, who is running unopposed, did not respond to questions from the News-Times as of press time. Both have previously said they support the sculpture.
Hoffmire was the most critical.
“The people of Oak Harbor must be included in the decision-making process, which I do not believe is the case in this instance,” he said.
He was also critical of the current city council members.
“I believe they have shown they are either incapable of proper communication with the public or they’re just unwilling — I don’t know which it is,” Hoffmire said.
If elected, he said he would do everything in his power to let the public vote on the sculpture before installation.
Andy Plumlee is running against Bryan Stucky for the seat currently held by Millie Goebel, who is not seeking reelection. He admitted that he was not very familiar with the sculpture, but said he would want more data about public opinion before making a decision. He suggested council members knock on constituents’ doors, pick up a phone or ask local business owners to have conversations with their employees.
“Now you’re not doing face to face with a bunch of people — you’re just leveraging relationships that are right in front of you,” Plumlee said.
Stucky said the city should have mailed out a survey and that the one put online “was poorly done and put out hastily.” He was quick to add that the arts commission should have been consulted about the survey, which Kingsbury has said she was not told about it prior to it being posted.
He said he would not vote to accept the sculpture and cited the negative response on social media.
“I don’t think Facebook should be the only medium that should be used, but as I’ve talked to a lot of people on the campaign trail and they’ve been negative about the sculpture,” Stucky said.
Fe Mischo, who is running against Dan Evans for Erica Wasinger’s seat, also said most of the people she had talked with did not favor the sculpture. Wasinger is not seeking reelection.
“I don’t feel that our city council has pushed enough to get more input on it,” Mischo said, adding that she would ask for a survey booth at the sculpture’s proposed location.
She said she would vote no or abstain if she were on council right now. She also said she was concerned about the art staying clean because of all of the seagulls that frequent the beach.
“We know those seagulls mean business,” she said.
Evans was clear he would not vote to accept the art but that he would support a windmill.
“My stance is that it is an honor to be given the opportunity for a piece of art like the Angel de la Creatividad,” Evans wrote in an email. “However, I believe that a windmill would be more fitting for the City of Oak Harbor.”
All of the new candidates said they would consider adding a windmill to Windjammer Park. Many people who grew up in Oak Harbor fondly remember the windmill at Windjammer Park, but it fell into disrepair and was torn down with little or no public input in 2017.
The candidates agreed that they would support a windmill if there was grant funding or community contributions to support it.
The fate of the sculpture may be decided at the Sept. 7 council meeting. City council members decided in August to consider an action item to authorize the mayor to sign documents that are necessary before the city can accept the gift. Afterward, the city council can vote on an ordinance to formally accept the gift.
Hoffmire claimed the sculpture debate is indicative of a larger trend in local politics.
“This is way bigger than a sculpture,” he said. “The public doesn’t feel heard and hasn’t felt heard in a while.”
Election day is Nov. 2.